Cybersecurity

US preparing to prosecute Assange: report

The Department of Justice is reportedly preparing to prosecute WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and hopes to try him in a U.S. courtroom.

The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday, citing people familiar with the matter, that prosecutors have been discussing different charges to level against Assange and how to bring him back to the U.S.

Ecuador granted Assange asylum in 2012 and he has been living in that country's embassy in London ever since. 

However, Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno, who was elected last year, has reportedly soured on Assange.

"On that, I'll just say, 'we'll see,'" John Demers, the head of the Justice Department's national security division, told the Journal on the possibility of the DOJ prosecuting Assange.

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill.

"We have heard nothing from authorities suggesting that a criminal case against Mr. Assange is imminent," Barry Pollack, a lawyer for Assange, told the Journal. "Prosecuting someone for publishing truthful information would set a terrible and dangerous precedent." 

The Journal noted that charges against Assange could include violating the Espionage Act, which criminalizes releasing information regarding national defense. 

Assange has been the subject of a DOJ investigation since 2010 when his organization leaked thousands of classified reports on the war in Afghanistan. 

WikiLeaks has come under further scrutiny as part of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia in 2016.

Mueller's indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers earlier this year labeled WikiLeaks as a tool of the Kremlin over its release of thousands of hacked Democratic emails during the 2016 presidential campaign that embarrassed party officials.

Any attempt to have Assange extradited back to the U.S. will have to navigate a complicated diplomatic web, the Journal noted. Moreno has repeatedly declared he would not hand Assange over to a country that has the death penalty and the U.K. has an arrest warrant for Assange related to a Swedish sexual assault case.  

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